To celebrate the release of Kohinoorgasm’s new mini EP Synthwali and the War Empire, Kajal caught up with the enigmatic experimental musician, known offstage as Josephine Shetty, to discuss being welcomed by the QTPOC arts scene, where our tax dollars are going, and music’s role in political resistance.
We last caught up with you back in October 2016 when you were coming up in the Bay Area arts scene. Since then you’ve moved back to LA and toured around the country. What have your experiences of those different creative scenes been like?
I moved home to LA last September but ever since then I’ve been on the road, although I’ll be rooted back there for the summer.
On tour I’ve been seeing so many different scenes and subcultural hubs and how they interact. As a performer, when you travel to a different city to play a show, people are so welcoming, because they know you’re traveling and want you to enjoy their city. It’s cool to feel so immediately welcome.
Honestly the more I travel the more I realize that QTPOC art scenes around America are quite similar, in that we’re all just raging against the same systems.
Totally. How has your live performance developed over time?
Structurally it’s the same. I sing and hire back up dancers to perform with me when I can. What’s different is that I’ve become incredibly more confident on stage, which has made it easier for me to talk to the audience and engage. People have noticed!
Amazing! Let’s talk about Synthwali and the War Empire. There’s a pretty clear political message in the lyrics “money is tied to every kind of government crime…wouldn’t pay a dime to a war empire”. What specifically motivated ‘War Empire’?
I wrote ‘War Empire’ about my frustrations with paying taxes, considering how much of our federal budget goes towards war and defense. I don’t want to have to pay for war, I don’t stand by war, I think all wars are unnecessary and that aggression, violence, and deadly competition are such racist and misogynistic tools for dealing with conflict. Plus, in America we pay for war through cuts to healthcare, education and social services. How can we justify taking life affirming services away from millions of people so that people in other countries can die or lose loved ones?
It really angers me that taxes force me to be complicit in our war spending, and this song is my way of expressing that. I encourage people to look at how organizations they are connected to, such as universities, banks, and religious institutions, profit from war through investments, and put pressure on them them to divest.
Why did you decide to release ‘Synthwali’ and ‘War Empire’ together?
‘Synthwali’ is instrumental and very dancey. A lot of my music doesn’t take on the intense vibe that these two songs have, which is why I picture them together.
‘Synthwali’ is meant to represent the ways that artists bear witness, resist, oppose, generate discussion around, and uncover truths about war. I wanted it to capture the vibe of subcultural resistance and the spaces that provide community and help us build morale – demonstrations, parties, raves – when being in constant opposition to the state of the government is exhausting.
Also the Hindi term “wali” mean “the one with”, so ‘Synthwali’ is kind of the girl who feels her synth!